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SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert signed a resolution Thursday moving the Utah State Prison from Draper to a site west of Salt Lake City International Airport, calling it the best location available.
"This is not the end. This is really another beginning," the governor said during the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7, kicking off a yearslong process to design and build a new prison expected to cost $550 million.
The Utah Legislature approved the concurrent resolution Wednesday in a special session called by the governor. Now that it's been signed by Herbert, the state can begin finalizing the purchase of the property and designing the new facility.
Herbert said his own visit to the site persuaded him it was preferable to the other finalists for the project identified by the Legislature's Prison Relocation Commission, in Eagle Mountain and Fairfield in Utah County, and in Grantsville in Tooele County.
"I think it will have minimal impact negatively to the city of Salt Lake City," the governor said, calling the site "the best location, not the perfect location, but the best to give us, I think, the most effective return on taxpayers' dollars."
Salt Lake City officials have said they may go to court to reverse the decision to put the prison near I-80 and 7200 West, but Herbert said he hopes the city and state can both benefit.
"I understand their anxiety about it," he said. "I would hope that in the spirit of cooperation, we can come together with the leaders of Salt Lake City and say this is a remote location, which probably has no anticipated development for many years in the future."
The utilities, road improvements and other infrastructure needed for a new prison will serve as a catalyst for economic development on what is now largely wetlands, the governor said.
The possibility of Magna annexing the site if Salt Lake City continues to fight the prison was raised Wednesday by a co-chairman of the prison commission, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton.
Herbert said that's "not necessarily" something he'd like to see happen, but he didn't rule it out if there are issues with Salt Lake City that can't be resolved.
I understand their anxiety about it. I would hope that in the spirit of cooperation, we can come together with the leaders of Salt Lake City and say this is a remote location, which probably has no anticipated development for many years in the future.
–Gov. Gary Herbert
"I think all options are on the table as we look to find the win-win, what's in the best interests of all the people of Utah, which is the perspective I've got to look at," he said.
Magna resident and Salt Lake County Councilman Michael Jensen said as the community transitions from a township to a municipality, adjusting its boundaries to include the nearby prison site is worth exploring.
"I think it's an interesting idea," Jensen said, adding that it could bring in new revenues as the area around the prison is developed. Magna is already a potential source of water and sewer services to the site.
Jensen said the site identified by the state, whose owners include Rio Tinto, is separated from Magna by both a landfill and the Kennecott tailings impoundment that would serve as buffers between the prison and the population.
But there hasn't been any serious discussion in the community about the pluses and minuses of making the prison part of Magna, he said, so "to say we're opposed or that we want it, it's too early."
What Jensen said he doesn't want to see is Magna caught in the middle of fight between the state and Salt Lake City.
"The community would not want to be used as a bargaining chip if it wasn't sincere," he said. "We don't want to be looked at that way."
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, who was the lone vote against moving the prison on a previous commission, said he shares the city's "disappointment and frustration with this decision" and would support their taking legal action.
"The reason I voted 'no' still stands today. I don't think there was enough information to make an informed decision," McAdams said, including whether the state needed a single "mega-mall" prison.
"I think it's the wrong decision to move the prison to that site," he said. "I think there were options that weren't considered. I was open to even moving it from Draper, but I think we rushed ourselves into a decision."